Tesla gets serious about Chinese EVs in search for design chief, report says

CEO Elon Musk talked last year about Tesla cars focused on Chinese drivers' needs, and the company reportedly wants someone to spearhead a new design studio.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
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2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance
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2018 Tesla Model 3 Performance

Tesla released this sketch one year ago, perhaps previewing a new model.


This time last year, almost to the date, announced plans for a Chinese design and research center and said it had begun the search for local staff. While we don't know if the coronavirus pandemic put such plans on the back burner in 2020, a new report from Reuters on Sunday indicates that China is still on Tesla's mind.

According to the publication, Tesla is looking for a design chief to lead a Chinese design studio in Shanghai or Beijing. Citing three people familiar with the plans, the automaker wants to tackle an EV tailored to Chinese drivers. However, the firm's ideal candidate will be able to bridge those drivers' tastes with what US drivers also enjoy, according to the report's sources.

The search reportedly took off this past September with some candidates interviewed but no final decision yet. If the information pans out, the person will be responsible for a "full-function" studio to conduct market research and oversee designers and modellers to create a Chinese EV.

The work on a Chinese-specific car may give legs to CEO Elon Musk's push for a truly affordable electric car from the automaker -- one that costs $25,000. The CEO wants to see such a car realized in three year's time, but if a Chinese design studio provides input, it seems highly likely such a car would land as a compact city car. Small city cars don't really find many friends in the US, but it may also solve Musk's puzzle to better cater to European drivers as well. But who knows, with a Tesla badge on it, maybe Americans would fall in line for an ultra-compact EV.

Although the process has been quiet so far, Reuters sources said would may hear more in the coming months as Tesla waits for President-elect Joe Biden to take office and outline the new administration's approach to China and its trade policies. Tesla does not operate a public relations department to field requests for comment, so we'll have to wait and see.

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